Category Archives: Church

One Passage, Preached In Opposite Directions

Treasured BibleIn two months, I would leave that church anyway, since marrying John necessitated moving from San Rafael, California to Boston, Massachusetts. Even so, the rambling, 80-minute message by the guest speaker left me literally weeping.

Most of the people at that service found this speaker highly offensive. The guy who had invited him tried, rather unconvincingly, to distance himself, clearly embarrassed by the whole fiasco. His delivery, which included physically humiliating our pastor, offended pretty much everybody. The exhibition felt more like a circus than a worship service, and people began wandering out to the lobby because of their impatience with his incoherence and his theatrics.

Sadly, however, I seemed to be the only one who objected to the actual content of what he taught.

He chose Ephesians 4:11-16 as his text:

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (ESV)

Sadly, he followed the Scripture-twisting script of extreme Charismatics in order to make this passage say that doctrine must be rejected for the sake of unity. Did he, in his efforts to promote the New Apostolic Reformation, realize that he taught precisely the opposite idea of what Paul meant in this passage?

I wept because, even though my friends were deeply disturbed by his methodology, they accepted his actual message as being perfectly Biblical. They completely missed the fact that his sermon made a diametrically opposite point to the text!

About three years ago, one of the elders from our current church preached on this same text. At first, remembering that horrible evening twelve years earlier, I flinched as John opened my Bible. Would this elder also try to teach that doctrine destroys unity?

But to my relief, the elder taught the passage correctly, presenting unity as a result of proper teaching. Unity, he affirmed, doesn’t require a minimization of doctrine. On the  contrary, God provided First Century apostles and prophets, followed by evangelists, pastors and teachers since then, to teach us how to be the Church.

Uniting over the foundational doctrines of the First Century apostles and prophets as faithful evangelists, pastors and teachers minister God’s Word to us keeps the Church from  fragmenting over doctrinal error. Proper doctrine aligns us under Christ’s leadership because faithful men explain His Word and enable us to access His Word for ourselves. (Faithful women can teach other women, as well as teaching children.)

The elder’s sermon three years ago offered tremendous comfort, assuring me that I could trust my new church to handle God’s Word properly. The leaders understand that right doctrine forms the very basis of Christian unity. Rather than casting doctrine aside, as the guest speaker that night suggested (for 80 long minutes), Christians must rally around true doctrine, carefully mining Scripture and treasuring every nugget and gem.

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Saturday Sampler: April 2 — April 8

Three BeautiesLeslie A., who blogs at Growing 4 Life, writes Learn to Discern: Living in the Light to instruct and encourage those of us who are labeled as negative for our interest in discernment.

In her latest blog post for Biblical Woman, Candi Finch answers the question, Did I Educate Myself Out Of Marriage? She gently takes us back to the Word of God to correct worldly ideas about attracting a man as well as about marriage in general.

Although Denny Burk’s article, Why the Church Needs More Gray Hair, specifically addresses men, we “women of a certain age” can also benefit from his comments.

I love it when other bloggers address my pet peeves. In His Name is Yahweh, Jesse Johnson of The Cripplegate addresses the superstitious avoidance of using God’s Name — even in English Bible translations.

What does it mean to teach by allegorizing the scriptures? asks Elizabeth Prata of The End Time. Elizabeth helps us understand appropriate rules of interpreting and applying the Word of God.

KrizSummer artfully contrasts the world’s view of love with the Biblical definition of it in her post, Love is NOT Like That. Besides reminding us of basic points,  she adds thoughts that few people (including Christians) consider.

 

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Perspectives In Titus: The Teachers Of Deception

Titus 1 10&11For the past few Mondays, our study of Paul’s letter to Titus has focused on the appointment of elders in every city of Crete. As we come to verses 10-11 today, we finally learn Paul’s reason  for wanting Titus to ordain these elders, as well as the purposes of the strict qualifications he placed on elders. I’ll quote these verses in their immediate context, and from there we can start talking about the problem of false teachers in Crete.

For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. ~~Titus 1:7-11 (ESV)

As you can easily see from the passage, Paul felt an  urgency for Titus to establish solid leaders in Crete because Crete had a variety of people who resisted godly authority, evidently talking foolishness and spreading false doctrine. Elders would, he implies, provide a way to remedy the damage.

In verse 10, Paul begins to explain the problem. Notice how Paul contrasts “empty talkers” with an elder’s responsibility to hold firm to the trustworthy word. The empty talkers may be fluent in Christian terminology, convincing people that they are spiritual,  but their words are mere pretense. Godly leaders, in contrast, teach substance rather than fluff, drawing on the very Word of God. Paul wanted elders who refuted the false teachers by living lives that placed them above reproach as well as by teaching sound doctrine.

The empty talk of the insubordinate teachers naturally included deception. As an example, Paul’s reference to the circumcision party alludes to Jews living in Crete. Like the Judaizers in Galatia and Philippi, these Jewish “Christians” taught that Gentile converts had to undergo circumcision in order to be genuinely saved.

The false teachers in First Century Crete, just like false teachers in the 21st Century,  deceived people by influencing their minds. According to Robertson’s Word Pictures,  the Greek word for deceivers is a rare  compound that denotes deceiving minds. Essentially, Paul tells Titus that these false teachers messed with the minds of Cretan believers.

As we progress to verse 11, we see the strategy for responding to the people who caused the disturbances in the Cretan churches. Paul tells Titus quite clearly that such false teachers must be silenced. The Greek word for silenced literally means muzzled. The elders Titus was to appoint had to muzzle these deceivers by both godly conduct and accurate teaching.

By saying these false teachers upset whole families, Paul means that they subverted households. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown suggest that these households were local congregations. Either way, their deceptions disrupted close bonds and apparently turned people away from the faith.

By “shameful gain,” Paul probably means that they derived financial benefit from injecting false doctrine into their ministry, Barnes states his belief that they devised doctrines that boosted their popularity, thus winning the confidence of those they then collected money from. Not only did they cause upheaval to entire families with their false doctrines, but they taught their deceptions as a way to profit materially.

False teachers permeate the 21st Century church using empty talk and deception to introduce division in even the best congregations. We need, whenever possible, to join churches that have elders and pastors who live godly lives and teach Biblical doctrine. And those of us who already belong to such churches should pray regularly for our pastors and elders to continue guarding us through God’s Word.

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Perspectives In Titus: Holding Fast To Trustworthy Doctrine

Titus 1 v 9As we move along in our study of Paul’s letter to Titus, we find that Titus 1:9 really needs to be treated in its own blog post. Please don’t misunderstand me as saying that it stands in isolation from its context. Rather, there’s simply too much in it to discuss it in the same essay with verses 5-8, and verse 10 begins a new paragraph.

As always, let’s look at verse 9 in context, just to remind ourselves of Paul’s flow of thought.

5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. ~~Titus 1:5-9 (ESV)

Paul has been instructing Titus on the qualifications of an elder, and has just outlined the type of character a man must have in order to assume this office. Now he changes gears, ever so slightly, to a prospective elder’s ability to handle God’s Word.

An elder, Paul insists, must hold firm to God’s Word, not compromising it to accommodate the ideas of others. He needs an undivided loyalty to Christ and His teaching (see Matthew 6:24 and Luke 16:13). Even though Paul here is talking about much more than the tension between God and money, the principle of single hearted devotion still applies. Barnes elaborates on this concept by commenting:

This means that he is to hold this fast, in opposition to one who would wrest it away, and in opposition to all false teachers, and to all systems of false philosophy. He must be a man who is firm in his belief of the doctrines of the Christian faith, and a man who can be relied on to maintain and defend those doctrines in all circumstances.

So an elder must hold firm to Scripture. This exhortation brings us to the nature of Scripture, which makes it worthy of holding firmly. Paul calls God’s Word trustworthy. Elders, and Christians in general, can absolutely rely on it!

I want you to notice the phrase, “the trustworthy word as taught.” Vincent’s Word Studies  tells us that this phrase, “as taught” literally means “according to the teaching” and therefore communicates the idea of agreement with the teaching of the apostles. Embellishments to it, such as those Paul alludes to in verse 14, dilute it, turning people away from its pure principles.

An elder must hold firm to God’s Word  for the purpose of teaching his people sound doctrine. He doesn’t teach vague ideas or worldly wisdom, but the clear teachings of Scripture. He avoids seeker-sensitive models that incorporate popular ideas of the   world into the Gospel.

He also must hold firm to God’s Word  in order to rebuke those who contradict it. In context, Paul apparently means false teachers. We’ll see the application of this clause next Monday as we look at the group of false teachers who disrupted the church in Crete.

Elders aren’t the only Christians who need to hold firm to God’s Word, however. You and I also bear a responsibility to cling tenaciously to the sound doctrine of the Bible, teaching it to our children and to other women. For that reason Titus 1:9 applies to each of us. We can join our elders in holding firmly to the trustworthy Word of God, confident that it will never fail.

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Perspectives In Titus: How To Be Above Reproach

Lady's BibleAs I hope you’ll remember from last Monday’s Bible Study on Titus, ladies, the apostle Paul left Titus in Crete with the task of appointing elders in every town. Paul instructed that these be men who were above reproach. Today we will take a more detailed look at how elders could actually be above reproach.

But before we examine Titus 1:7-8, let’s read these verses in their immediate context.

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. ~~Titus (ESV)

You can see from this passage that Paul repeats his injunction for overseers to be above reproach, as if to emphasize the importance of this characteristic. Overseers, or elders, must be above reproach, we see in verse 7, because they are God’s stewards. A steward  cares for and manages someone else’s property or affairs. Therefore, they need reputations that make accusations against them difficult to believe.

How are elders to cultivate such reputations? Interestingly, Paul introduces this practical discussion by enumerating ways that an elder should not behave.

To begin with, an elder mustn’t be arrogant (some translations say self-willed). The sense conveys an arrogance that presumes  on the office. In appointing elders, Titus should avoid men who would rule as autocrats.

Going along with that thought, Paul continues by instructing that an elder must not be quick-tempered. Amid the inevitable frustrations of ministry, anger could expose an attitude of self-will. He needs the ability to bridle his temper.

A steward of God’s Church must not be a drunkard. Believers Bible Commentary points out that First Century Mediterranean culture used wine as a common beverage (probably like we use coffee). So Paul’s point here really focuses, not on abstinence, but on self-control.

Along with sobriety in terms of wine, an elder mustn’t be violent. This refers specifically to physical violence .

Lastly in this list of negatives , an elder must not be greedy.  Paul doesn’t want these men exploiting the Gospel as a way to make money. Many false teachers did (and still do) use religion as a means of personal profit. That motive is unacceptable.

In contrast  to these negative qualities, in verse 8 Paul lists characteristics  that actually do befit an elder.

Firstly, an elder must be hospitable. In first Century Mediterranean culture,  hospitality had a special importance,  and Christians  needed to open their homes to strangers. Elders  had the responsibility  to set an  example  of such hospitality.

Next,  Paul says that an elder must be a lover of good. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown  tell us that the Greek  implies  that they are a lover of all that is good, whereas  Barnes expands this notion with the idea that an elder should love people of good character regardless of their outward  appearance  or circumstances.

Following  this quality, an elder  should be sober, which carries  the idea of being  sensible enough to make sound judgments.

Additionally,  an elder must be upright, or just. By this we mean that he is able to deal fairly and honestly  with others, particularly as a steward of God’s Church.

An elder must also be holy. One might consider this as an obvious point, but Paul has reason for including it.This idea points to an attitude of devotion  towards the Lord. Therefore, a steward of God’s Church must maintain a deep and robust relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

Finally,  Paul directs that an elder  must be disciplined, or able to control his passions as well as his outward  behavior. Perhaps this point sums up  these two verses.

Before we conclude that verses 7 and 8 apply exclusively to elders, please remember that elders serve as examples to the rest of us. God calls all Christians to live obedient lives in accord with Scripture and by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit. Our elders merely demonstrate how we can live above reproach.

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Perspectives In Titus: Putting Things In Order

Bible contextContinuing our study of Titus, we’ll look at verses 5-6 today.I had hoped to cover verses 5-9 in this post. Once you stop laughing at my unrealistic expectations of myself (yes, it’s funny that I thought I could get through five verses in one shot), let’s read the passage to get our bearings.

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. ~~Titus 1:5-9 (ESV)

As I prepared this study, I realized that verses 5 and 6 present a theme of putting things in order. Hmm, maybe it’s God’s providence that I will only get through these two verses.

Starting with verse 5, we learn that Titus remained in Crete to finish Paul’s work and to appoint elders.

Jamieson Fausset and Brown comment that Paul spent the winter there on his way to his imprisonment in Rome. So, coupled with the fact that Cretan Jews heard the Gospel at Pentecost (Acts 2:11), the Gospel had gotten to Crete. But Paul left, a prisoner, before the church could be fully organized, so he charged Titus with the responsibility of organizing the church. Gill argues that Paul left Titus there after his second visit.

Paul wanted Titus to “set in order” what remained of constituting the Cretan church.  Vincent’s Word Studies says that the Greek word translated “set in order”   was “Used by medical writers of setting broken limbs or straightening crooked ones.” In verses  10-16 of this chapter we’ll see why the Cretan church needed correction.

Paul directed Titus to appoint elders in every town of Crete. Elders were responsible to care for the  spiritual needs of local congregations. Thus they had to be men of maturity. For that reason, they had to be men whose personal lives reflected order.

Titus 1:6-8 parallels 1 Timothy 3:2-4  in listing the qualifications for being an elder.  Jamieson, Fausset and Brown  comment that the reiteration of qualifications in this epistle contrasts the wickedness of the Cretans (see Titus 1:10). An elder, because he will reprove unsound doctrine and behavior, must exhibit godliness in his own life.

Therefore he must be, first of all, above reproach. Obviously, no elder can be completely sinless, but God’s Word through Paul requires that they be men of integrity.  The rest of this passage details how he should be above reproach.

An elder’s blamelessness begins with how well he orders his family life. Faithfulness in marriage, therefore, is essential. Commentators vary on how strictly this principle applies in the case of remarriage, but the general idea is that he be a model of sexual fidelity. They also note that this clause doesn’t disqualify unmarried men from serving. The point is that they be chaste.

His children, the English text says, must be believers. According to Barnes, the Greek word here rendered “believers” simply means that they live respectfully toward the Christian faith. The issue is more about his ability to govern than about whether or not God has given his children the gift of faith  (Ephesians 2:8). In 1 Timothy 3:5  Paul explains that a man who can’t manage his own household probably can’t manage God’s church.

Nobody should be able to accuse an elder of spending excessive money or time on selfish pursuits (here called debauchery) or in rebellion against authority. Some commentators believe that this clause applies to the elder’s children.  That explanation seems most consistent with the  text.

As women, of course, none of us will be church elders. But really, every Christian should have the level of integrity that Paul prescribes for elders. Are we faithful to our husbands?  Are we helping our husbands raise well-behaved children? Do our personal lives qualify us to serve our churches?  If not, perhaps we need the Lord to put us in order.

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Perspectives In Titus: A Meaningful Salutation

purple-bibleFor a few reasons, we’ll continue our Titus Bible Study by remaining in verse 4 of Chapter 1 today. Primarily, we’ll do so because last Monday we used this verse to introduce Titus rather than exploring how it fits in with the rest of Paul’s salutation. Its context makes going on to verses 5-9 awkward since we didn’t really examine it last week.

As I’ve just mentioned, verse 4 concludes Paul’s salutation to Titus. This salutation can’t be skipped over lightly because of its rich doctrinal content. Most of this epistle centers around the practicalities of church structure and function, leaving Paul little opportunity to proclaim doctrinal truths, which probably frustrated him just a bit. For that reason, he took full advantage of the chance to pack theology into every crevice of his letter to Titus that he could find. You see, Paul proclaimed doctrine as a way to express his worship of Christ.

Let’s look at the entire salutation, remembering the great doctrines of God’s sovereignty and His election of believers that we saw in our study two weeks ago.

 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior;

To Titus, my true child in a common faith:

Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior. ~~Titus 1:1-4 (ESV)

Paul has just introduced himself as a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, stating his mission of bringing the Gospel of eternal life to the elect. Notice how he delights in the details of God’s sovereignty? But now he realizes that he needs to finish his salutation, so he greets Titus by calling him “my true child.”

That phrase conveys far more than mere affection. Most commentators believe that Paul led Titus to the Lord. They base their assertion on the fact that Paul uses similar language to describe Timothy (1 Corinthians 4:17) and Onesimus (Philemon 10). The apostle reminds Titus of the spiritual bond they share.

But he quickly erases any thought that he’s spiritually superior to Titus by adding the phrase “in a common faith.”  Here Paul suggests that Christians have a faith shared by both Jews and Gentiles,  common to all believers regardless of their position within the Church. As an apostle who is ethnically Jewish, Paul considers this Gentile convert as his equal

This phrase also may allude to the Council of Jerusalem, where the possible presence of Titus may have demonstrated the erasure of distinction between Jews and Gentiles. If indeed Titus had been present at the Council, this allusion would have served to encourage Titus in the genuineness of his ministry. Such an affirmation would help Titus in exercising his pastoral authority in Crete.

Paul’s epistles often open by wishing the recipients grace and peace, so this occurrence of that phrase shouldn’t surprise us. Since none of the commentators I read said much about it, I will simply remark that grace and peace come through Christ Jesus our Savior. In the previous verse, God is called Savior, implying Christ’s shared deity with the Father. Both Father and Son impart grace and peace.

As we close today’s study, perhaps we can think about the wonderful truth that, by God’s grace, each of us participates in a common faith. By grace, we stand before the Lord as equals with each other. Therefore we must avoid attitudes of spiritual pride, accepting each other in love and humility. As we progress through the book of Titus, we’ll discover how such love and humility plays out.

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